Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the fantasy series The Wheel of Time traces the journey of a magic wielder, Moiraine Sedai and others as she travels across various lands to find “the dragon” and prevent another apocalypse. The series is based on books of the same name written by the late Robert Jordan and is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The first season ended recently with spectacular scenes from many places in which various events of importance take place. In tune with the series’ diverse cast are different architectural styles from different times and places.

Focusing on the travels of the main characters, there is a lot of room to explore various architectural styles. Even other characters that the main characters come across are from various backgrounds. The producers used a combination of shots from different places in the world with CGI scenes inspired by other such places. The initial town of origin of the main characters – one of whom is the “dragon reborn” – was a set built like the barn houses seen in medieval times.   

An architectural review of The Wheel of Time - Sheet1
A shot using mountain scenery in the series_©atlasofwonders.com

Most sequences of the first few episodes show the characters traveling through woods and mountains. Even in the wilderness, architectural elements such as stone bridges over streams and small huts dotted throughout the landscape are shown. Utilizing different architectural styles allows the viewer to differentiate and remember different places in the story. There are also scenes of ruins of 18th-century houses and mills. The fascinating thing is how these elements are tied together to form the story. 

There is an interesting picture in the promos, of a woman standing between two pillars of sorts. This is the “way gate” in the story of which more can be understood by watching the show. The design for this appears to be based on Balinese architecture. This picture catches the viewers’ attention because of its architectural style. It is a great way to generate curiosity among prospective viewers. I was intrigued by this particular picture identifying it as an Asian architectural element; after which I decided to watch the series. It also shows how much the promos and the first impressions matter. 

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A shot showing the Way Gate_©Amazon Prime video Jan Thijs

In the first few episodes, the characters speak multiple times about the ‘breaking of the wheel’ creating suspense and has allowed the producers to show scenes from the past; of what it was like before the ‘breaking of the wheel’. Without giving away anything, I can say that it is worth looking at the architecture used throughout the season. The set design and different backdrops used create a stunning storyline. 

For those who have read the books, The City of Shadar Logoth (the shadow city) is depicted as a mysterious dark place. The set designers utilized a former German church in Czechia and used props and CGI based on Indian architecture (as seen in Jaipur, Rajasthan) to add a suspenseful touch. The idea of blending these two architectural styles created a distinct place that is unlike any other. Parts of the same set (with a few changes) were used for the filming of another city in the series called Tar Valon (which is a busy and lively city). But the way the light was used to create an environment of darkness or warmth speaks about the cinematography here. It would be impossible to point out the similarities between the two cities at first glance. 

An architectural review of The Wheel of Time - Sheet3
Comparing Tar Valon and Shadar Logoth_©atlasofwonders.com

This is an example of how light can drastically change our perception of a space. Throughout the season, the set designers have used elements from natural features such as the cave with the pools or the mountainous backdrops of the different towns the group visits. Based on the tone of the story, they have used light in different ways to set the scene.

The series used quarries in Czech to depict small towns taking inspiration from the architecture of nearby villages. Some buildings were constructed in studios while others were taken as backdrops and retouched using CGI. The landscapes seen throughout the series is a mosaic of sceneries from around the world. While most scenes are from Spain, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, there are also a few landscapes from East Asia. 

As designers, the most important point to consider here is the integration of different architectural styles to create a new one. It also appears that some scenes of the entry gates of the city Fal Dara were like the scenes of Tatooine from Star Wars. It was important to create a seamless blend to make it all work in the end. It is difficult to create a collage of different scenes and places while making it all work well together. The creators are also tasked with keeping up with the complicated and elaborate storyline. So, I think we can expect many more innovative set designs in the coming seasons. Overall, I thought that the use of all these elements ties the story together leaving the viewers on the edge of their seats for the next season.

The following link leads to the Amazon Prime page where you can watch this series: https://www.primevideo.com/detail/The-Wheel-of-Time/0U3073DE9J38JXZ5WLZW5O8MH3 

References:

  1. Ra Moon; Atlas of Wonders (2021). Where was the Wheel of Time filmed. [Online]. Available at: https://www.atlasofwonders.com/2021/11/where-was-the-wheel-of-time-filmed.html [Accessed: 25 January 2022].  
  2. John Fallon (2021). All the book changes in the sixth episode of The Wheel of Time. [Online]. Available at: https://winteriscoming.net/2021/12/12/all-book-changes-sixth-episode-the-wheel-of-time-flame-of-tar-valon/ [Accessed: 25 January 2022]
Author

Sanika Palnitkar is an architect who loves to read. She finds science fiction fascinating and one of the reasons for joining architecture. Other than that, she prefers reading or watching thrillers, mysteries, adventures or fantasies (nerd stuff). Learning new software is another one of her hobbies.

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